Thursday, July 8, 2010

Without the Three Bears, Part 1

Author Stephen Covey, when asked, said he could sum up all his teachings in the phrase "Seek first to understand before being understood."Now that I'm an avid fan of his, I've begun to examine the strange and meandering course my own thought processes, and the books that nurtured them, have run.

In High School where I first came to faith my earliest sources of Christian education were charismatic, borderline pentecostal in origin. I believe you can hear the crackle of Holy Ghost fire in my truest, most honest and heart-felt congregational prayers. I'm greatly indebted to that line of ecclesiology for teaching me movement (rhythm), laughter, and ecstasy.

But Goldilocks found the porridge too... unsatisfying. She wanted something more wholesome, more complete in her meal.

In College, my mind began to open. Seth Godin often writes about how terrible the classroom is for fostering creativity and individuality but I'm a little more gentle in my stance. In college, I began to take my first steps and found the courage to acknowledge my intelligence. My movement towards Reformed theology was no coincidence. The Charismatic environment I grew up in often demeaned the mind and the products of the mind, often setting them in opposition to "the heart" which was the domain of things Spiritual. Once, I did sit in on a conversation with two brothers who spoke otherwise but their actions told me no different. The more frequently a Christian group or person invokes the answer "You can ask Jesus yourself when you meet him." the more suspicion you should cast upon them. In college, my doubts about the argument structures that the Charismatics often used couldn't be contained any longer once I began to really excel in philosophy classes.

Those classes didn't teach me much I couldn't find on Wikipedia. What they did however was provide me with an outlet to exercise the abilities I had used in every other area of life but spirituality. Oftentimes, this outburst of mental activity leads many to abandon the faith. And why not? Wouldn't you feel betrayed, duped, deluded if you had to lead a life without rationality, relying on your intuition for "a move of the Spirit?"

But I didn't abandon the faith because as I was taking one foot off of charismaticism, it was settling upon the rock of Reformed theology. A few posts ago, I wrote about how I needed to break with the tradition. In many ways, I have but that was another post. Here I want to thank Reformed theology for teaching me how to read Scripture correctly and how to put the pieces together with integrity. Instead of haphazardly jumbling disparate verses together and sprinkling in anecdotes like the preachers I had previously known, as good as their intentions were, I grew in my understanding of exegetics and hermeneutics. I was able to use my mind to reach the ends of theology, question method, approach, bias and intent. I found a place where they respected the fact that my feelings about the text had little connection to the meaning, purpose and structure of a text.

But my zeal and fire dimmed. I could wax more eloquently about the sublime glories of Christ but my flame grew tired and weary. Not only did I lose some of what I previously had, the hole in my heart only filled by the barest of circumferences.

Goldilocks tried the next batch of porridge and found this one too bland. She tried adding cinnamon, but the cinnamon lost its color and flavor as soon as it touched the pale, flavorless paste in the bowl. Reading the nutrition label though did encourage her to some degree. It wasn't a degree to which she would willingly eat another bowl of this slop though.

During the Reformed period of my life I fought vigorously against the Joel Osteen way of Christianity as well as the "Name it and claim it"/ "Health and Wealth"/ "Prosperity Gospel" preachers. I believed back then that materially focused Christianity was a doomed Christianity. Real faith is about the immaterial, about union with Christ, the rational-mystical.

And now as we've reached this part of the story, I can't tell you how flummoxed Goldilocks is to be having eggs benedict and mimosa's for breakfast. She's relishing each bite and now she's waving for the waiter to come and bring another round. She hasn't eaten like this for ages!

One of the most private struggles I've been having is how materially and temporally based my Christianity has become. I won't lie that this has also been the most joyous time of my life. Should a man struggle with the fact that he's experiencing joy? I've been wanting to make the phrase "Your best life now" for a long time and it makes me doubly shamed inside. First and foremost, Osteen beat me to it. Secondly, I love the phrase.

The genesis of the sentence comes not from the slick-haired, toothy smile of that megachurch fleecer, but from a quote of Ayn Rand's: "Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be waiting for us in our graves -- or whether it should be ours here and now on this earth."

I simply can't find any reason not to have my best life now.

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